Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Review: Hope and Heartbreak in Toronto

The Maple Leafs suck and you're an idiot for liking them.

That's essentially the premise of Why The Leafs Suck And How They Can Be Fixed by Al Strachan and Leafs AbomiNation: The dismayed fan's handbook to why the Leafs stink and how they can rise again by Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange.

The titles of both books imply that the authors, in their infinite wisdom, have the secrets to turning the Leafs around, although neither really does. Instead, both books spend the bulk of their print describing years worth of Leafs idiocy and basically laughing at anyone who is stupid enough to support the team.

Peter Robinson, author of the upcoming book Hope and Heartbreak in Toronto: Life as a Maple Leafs Fan, chooses not to take the same tired path as the aforementioned authors. Robinson doesn't want to profiteer off Leafs fans' misery, because he is one.

Robinson, a golf columnist for and the editor of Prospects Hockey, the official magazine of the CHL, doesn't write about the Leafs from the usual dispassion of a journalist. He writes as a fan. A fan who doesn't have season tickets or corporate connections in order to watch the large number of games he does. Robinson spends his own hard-earned money, most often times giving it to scalpers when in need of a last-minute Leafs fix.

In fact, his dealings with scalpers comprise two entire chapters, and Robinson gives some hints about dealing with the street hawks. He's been burned in the past, but has also been fortunate enough to score some deals, so using his insight might help your negotiation tactics the next time you decide to buy tickets. For many, it's the only chance of getting into a game (something that the book also examines).
Unavoidably, Hope and Heartbreak in Toronto rehashes some of the more inglorious moments in recent Leafs history, such as the Phil Kessel trade and the Tuukka Rask trade, but where other books come off as rubbing your face in it, Robinson is sadly reminiscing with you.

For the majority of the book, however, Robinson gives an interesting take on what it means to be a Leafs fan in Toronto. He attempts to explain why the ACC is such a dud of an arena and why it's about as lifeless as a morgue. He examines the pitiful state of Toronto sports in general and makes a parallel with the Blue Jays, creating a what-if scenario in which the Blue Jays never won back-to-back World Series titles.

Robinson adds personal anecdotes from his experiences, whether they be dealing with oblivious fans around him, or convincing his pregnant wife that a road trip to Montreal's Bell Centre would be close enough for him to race back to Toronto if she went into labour. The stories add personality to the book and make it an enjoyable read.

What the book fails to do, however, is adequately answer the question why Leafs fans, Robinson included, have become so enamoured with the team, despite years of ineptitude, false promises, and disappointment. The book makes attempts, and Robinson himself describes attending over 100 games since the lockout, spending an estimated $20,000 in the process, yet still can't quite articulate why he, and others like him, keep coming back for more.

Maybe it just can't be explained.

The book ends with a run down of all the games Robinson has been to since the lockout, including the estimated cost (for anyone crazy enough to try to match his feat), and a brief recap of the game. What amazed me was how many random games I vividly remember. Of course, games where Bryan McCabe scores on his own net are memorable, but so are insignificant ones, like the time John Mitchell scored two goals against the Rangers in a come-from-behind victory.

Overall, Hope and Heartbreak in Toronto is a well-written book and Robinson is able to inject his own humour throughout. The book doesn't break ground in the re-telling of Leaf horror stories, but that wasn't its intent, thankfully. It is a unique glimpse at the Leafs through the eyes of a man as passionate, and maybe more so, than your typical fan.

Anyone interested in reading Hope and Heartbreak in Toronto: Life as a Maple Leafs Fan can pick up a copy here. The book is due out in October.


Nickole Dinardo said...

Good informative post, thanks for sharing.

Devin Krause said...

I ennjoyed reading this

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